#4 – “Sleeping In The Flowers” (1994)

John Henry
L.K.: Possibly my favorite song on all of John Henry, which is probably tied with TMBG’s first album as my favorite album of theirs.  And it’s the song that may or may not be about getting stoned in Central Park.
A.S.: I wouldn’t doubt that it’s about drugs.
L.K.: Oh yeah, it certainly could be.  I mean, something unreliable is going on with this narrator, and drugs would be a pretty good explanation.
A.S.: Getting rides home with drunk guys, spinning heads around, quitting jobs…
L.K.: A bunch of people on TMBW seem pretty adamant that it’s not about drugs, and they think Flansburgh is just pulling everyone’s legs, but then there’s other stuff like “The Statue Got Me High” that obviously isn’t about drugs but people keep insisting it is, so screw other people and their interpretations.
A.S.: Maybe it’s not about drugs, but I also feel like there’s some sort of contingency of fans that seem to be repulsed by the idea of TMBG being associated with drugs in any way, shape, or form.
L.K.: Haha, oh boy, THE DRUG QUESTION.
A.S.: But of course, they’re a rock and roll group.  Even if they don’t actually do drugs, drug culture has just been an inherent part of pop music forever
L.K.: I mean, any time any artist does something really weird, lazy people tend to just attribute that to drugs.  But some of the weirdest people didn’t do drugs!  Zappa!
A.S.: I was just going to bring him up.
L.K.: Cigarettes and coffee.
A.S.: TMBG, Sparks…
L.K.: The Johns being crazy coffee drinkers, I think the lesson here is that caffeine is actually a psychedelic drug.
A.S.: And usually the druggiest folks in pop music ended up creating sloppy, incomprehensible messes, not the sort of twisted, creative, generally cleanly-performed oddities that TMBG, Zappa, et al created.  For example, Harry Nilsson’s mid-late 70s period as we saw yesterday, those two Alice Cooper records that he doesn’t remember making…
L.K.: But yeah, TMBG fans mostly tend to be teetotaling, law-abiding nerds, hence the total revulsion towards the idea of a song being at all drug-related. It’s like all the old people freaking out when Ralph Berton wrote that crazy book and alleged that Bix Beiderbecke smoked marijuana.  Not that I think Bix smoked pot, because he was too busy being an alcoholic.
A.S.: Did they really?
L.K.: Yeah, the old men totally freaked out over it, which is kind of ironic in that if Bix had just been a stoner like Louis Armstrong or something, he probably wouldn’t have been dead so early, but eh. People are weird. …Though alcohol was illegal when he was an alcoholic, but THIS IS TOTALLY OFF-TOPIC.
A.S.: That all said, I think “Sleeping In the Flowers” is one of Flansburgh’s absolute best songs.
L.K.: Agreed 100%
A.S.: Just an absolute joy to listen to – the crunchy, lurching verses juxtaposed with the almost cartoonishly uptempo and joyous chorus, the tight-horn playing.
L.K.: When I wrote a paper about John Henry during my freshman year of college, we got to play two songs from the album we wrote about in front of the entire class, and this was one of the songs I played. (The other was “No One Knows My Plan”) And people laughed when I played it for them! I was crushed.
A.S.: The music is a bit comic, but it’s definitely not a funny song.
L.K.: They found the uptempo, jaunty chorus to be hilarious after the slow, miserable-sounding verse. It’s not funny, but it’s not really…it’s hard to tell what it’s about. (…drugs) But yeah, man, the instrumental outchorus on this is so incredibly kicking.
A.S.: And how on Earth did they get Robert Quine to play the guitar solo?  Which weirdly enough, I just discovered yesterday.
L.K.: No idea! Somebody needs to ask Flans on tumblr…
A.S.: That must have been one of Flansburgh’s childhood dreams come true, not unlike the Arto Lindsay solo on “Hearing Aid.”
L.K.: Maybe he had connections in the No Wave scene for that one…
A.S.: Quine too; he was pretty influential among the no wavers. Maybe Quine and Lindsay were still buddies or something in the ’90s.  I have no idea, but I’d love to find out.
L.K.: Let’s talk about the Dial-A-Song incarnations of this song for a second.
A.S.: Dutch Masters te amo…
L.K.: Again, I have no idea what that’s about.
A.S.: Again, could tie into the drugs
L.K.: People on the wiki arguing drugs vs. painters
A.S.: Or it could tie into the James Ensor side of John Henry-TMBG
L.K.: Either way, it seems kind of out of place with the rest of the song, which is probably why it didn’t survive to the final version. “Old masters te amo”, from the other DAS version, doesn’t make any more sense either.
A.S.: Yeah, a bit too short of a verse, wouldn’t be jarring enough a change when leading into the chorus.
L.K.: I love whoever pointed out that the beginning of the verse on the album version of the song sounds kind of like the beginning of [The Smiths’] “Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Loved Me.” They’re in different keys, but I can’t unhear it now.
A.S.: They’re in different time signatures too.
L.K.: Well yeah.
A.S.: I can see the resemblance but it doesn’t really strike me that much. I just heard the single version for the first time too
L.K.: I can’t understand why they even made that radio edit. It’s less radio-friendly than the original!
A.S.: I kinda like the acoustic intro, but they definitely did the song a disservice by cutting it way shorter.
L.K.: It’s not like the original is overly long either.
A.S.: Exactly.
L.K.: The radio version is only 20 seconds shorter, and they shaved off the damn outro which is my favorite part of the song.
A.S.: I guess when half of your songs are under two minutes, a four and a half minute song must seem like an eternity, but for the rest of the pop music world, that’s the average.
L.K.: I’m just going to blame Elektra for this stupid decision.
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